Question and Answer: SGA presidential and vice-presidential candidates Kyle Kendall and Chris Figueiredo answer questions about their campaign

Transparency and communication are at the helm of their campaign

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By Cassie McGrath, Assistant News Editor

Kyle Kendall, junior nursing major and Chris Figueiredo, sophomore chemical engineering major are running for SGA president and vice president respectively. The pair is asking students which issues matter to them and running on behalf of those concerns. They are prioritizing communication and transparency in their message.

The following is a transcript of a question-and-answer interview the Massachusetts Daily Collegian conducted with Kendall and Figueiredo prior to the SGA executive debate, which is being held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11 in the Campus Center Auditorium. The interview was conducted on March 8. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What’s your experience with the SGA?

Kyle Kendall: Where do I start? So, my experience when I started freshman year, I was very interested in running for SGA,  unfortunately, I was a transfer student, so I didn’t get all of the emails and everything that all the traditional students got. There was a lot of stuff during New Students Orientation that went out. So, I wasn’t aware of running for a position my freshman year. After, towards the end of the first semester, posting came out on social media. The Facebook of the SGA [was] recruiting senators for all the classes. So I reached out to the Outreach Development Committee and emailed them that I was very interested in it, to which I got a response saying that they got my application and [said they would] get back to me after a break, but they never actually got back to me after a break. And I went to an SGA meeting after break and started asking questions, to which I found out that my email was lost. So, I never actually got a position that year. And that’s my first experience with that was I brought SGA to the judiciary for not following their own bylaws. They didn’t have the posting posted for 14 days; they didn’t respond to emails. So that prompted some bylaw changes and then that spring semester of freshman year. So, spring of 2018, I think, I ran a campaign for senator for class of 2021 and was successful in that and then that next fall I was a senator through the entire fall after which I had to resign from my position moving forward into the spring semester because I was deploying. So, I deployed overseas with the Air Force for seven months, which took me out of SGA because I was no longer a fee-paying student. I could no longer be part of the SGA. However, re-enrolled in school to come back this past fall and applied to be a cabinet member; I applied to be the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. I was Secretary of Veterans Affairs from the beginning of the school year until Nov. 13, when I was terminated by the current president, Timmy Sullivan. And then immediately after my termination, I applied to be a senator because there were an open class of 2021 seats. I was awarded one, and I currently sit as a senator for the class of 2021. Since I’ve been involved in SGA, I’ve sat on the Faculty Senate Athletics Committee, Faculty Senate Health Council, as well as the Vice Chancellor Advisory Board for Athletics. And then for one year, I sat on the Faculty Senate Campus Physical Planning Committee.

Chris Figueiredo: So, I’ve only been directly involved in SGA for the past couple of months. I’ve applied for a senator position. I did not get it. I applied for Secretary of PR and Relations. I did not get that. I applied for Secretary of Veterans Affairs and was appointed Wednesday, actually. But over the past two years, I’ve been working with SGA indirectly involved with a lot of RSO. My main one is University Programing Council. And with that, I’ve been working with the Director of Finance. I’ve helped them both with the budget and the whole process of submitting the budget to SGA and so I have been indirectly working with them and dealing with the bylaws and their full process since I’ve been a freshman.

If elected, what will your priorities be?

KK: I have been asked this since I was getting signatures. So, I think bringing the focus back into our students. I think over the past couple of years, the SGA has kind of gone off on tangents and no longer focuses on issues that directly and immediately impact students. Don’t get me wrong, everything the SGA is doing is important and it is helping students in one way or another. But the students may not necessarily realize that because they can’t see the immediate feedback of things. So, one thing I would like to do is I’d like to do is a survey for students or just going out, that’s kind of what I’m going to do while campaigning, is asking students what are things that they see as issues? What are their struggles, their gripes, their complaints that they have about our campus currently? I remember in the past when I was doing this, I had people say things as comical as the wind. I had explained to them that, you know, there’s nothing I can do about changing the wind. Unfortunately, it’s just the way it is. But other things that students have had complaints about are not enough communication about schedule changes. For example, the current schedule change, which just was announced, they re-announced to the students about Thanksgiving break being shortened and later because of Labor Day being later. Also, I think we really need to take some time and focus on the diversity of our campus and education around diversity. Since I’ve been here, there has been way too many hate crimes or hate incidents that have occurred. And in my mind, one incident is too many, but there has been more than I can count on both of my hands since I’ve been here. So that’s something that I think I really would like to meet with the administration on, meet with other campus leaders from other campus groups, including but not limited to the student minority students groups such as the Black Student Union Hillel, and a number of other different groups like that.

CF: Just like adding on what he has been saying, I joined Kyle on this campaign because I agree with a lot of that. Coming from an outside perspective, it feels like SGA isn’t really there to serve the students and only really focuses on words. It’s not something I really want to change and just change a whole attitude towards the students and people on campus.

What do you think the current administration can improve on?

KK: I’d say transparency and timely communication. Did you communicate, whoever it is, at their leisure? And transparency. You know, we can go back as far as you want, we can talk about my termination. And there are senators that asked why I was terminated in an SGA meeting and they were never given an answer. I’ve met with several senators out of the meeting separately, individually, and discussed it with them. The meeting minutes were shared from my meeting. I mean, as you’re aware, I sat down with you and shared everything that I shared with everyone else. I have nothing to hide. I stay true to my word. I said that. I’ve said it in front of the Senate, said you’re not going to get rid of me. And here I am. I’m back again. But I feel like there’s a lot of showboating going on. They’re definitely running their own personal agendas around. President Sullivan has made comments and remarks and he’s even put them on his nametag saying he’s a pro [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] supporter because he knows that The Daily Collegian, Amherst Wire, all the local media for the college is following him. So he’s using this opportunity to try to gain some momentum with his movements. But yet again, you know, I think it was very interesting that when I spoke with the Director of the Student Veteran Resource Center, Matt Bachman, that neither of them had stepped foot into the Student Veteran Resource Center other than Vice President Latimer-Ireland to give him a job description, to give Matt, a job description of the Secretary of Veteran Affairs position. Other than that, they never set foot in there. We heard during the impeachment inquiry in the Senate, meaning we heard a number of minority students inquire with President Sullivan as to where their RSO’s were located and what he has done to help them, to which he just said he wasn’t going to comment. So I think there’s a lot of stuff that could’ve been done better. It started off when President Sullivan left the country this summer and didn’t have a cabinet. And there’s no one from the current cabinet working here over the summer. Vice President Latimer-Ireland was here, trying to work on some stuff, but there wasn’t a lot of that. I mean, I was in was off campus and I was getting emails myself from connections and relationships that I had built when I was in the SGA previously, asking me how to come they haven’t got a response on an email? So, there’s a I think communication might be the biggest thing.

CF: I think one other thing that needs to change is accountability. Just making sure SGA is accountable for what they say they will do and making sure they follow up on their promises and making sure they follow up on what students are asking for and requesting for.

What are the top three qualities you think an SGA president/VP needs to have?

Kendall: Be professional, I’d say a good communicator, strong work ethic and organization, would be the four I say. Getting back to the professional side of things. That includes understanding that no matter where you are, when you are, you are the SGA president. People know that you’re the SGA president. So, you’re always representing the SGA, whether you’re on campus, you’re off campus whether you’re meeting with administrators or their students. Once people have voted for you and everything, you are representing an entire body, everything you do, including your social media.

CF: I think it’s important to be open. We’re elected for a reason, we’re there to serve the students and the UMass community. So being open to any issues, any concerns, comments, anything to just be able to address the issues and to address the issues you were elected to resolve and to act on to make a change for is key so that the campus community is becoming a better one.

How do you look to draw more attention from the student body, and respond to the requests/needs of students?

KK: So, one of the big ways that we’re going to be doing this is over the next week and then the three days we come back with spring break, during the campaigning time and voting time, we’re going to be outreaching to different student groups. And like I had mentioned previously, asking them what issues they’re having. I know there’s a lot of issues around our RSOs right now around space booking. There’s a lot of questions about the new Student Union and that’s stuff that I’ve been asking for a while. So, definitely working on stuff like that. Reaching out to these groups and forming those relationships up so they understand there’s an open line of communication. You know, communication is a two-way street. So, if I say something out to someone, I’d expect to get something back from them and vice versa. If someone asks me something, I would hope that they would expect a response from me. So definitely, you know, whatever, people are open for us and there’s a lot of social media stuff going on to me, a social media campaign around it. We do have a website, What to Fix UMass and that was created by former Speaker Mahan and we created that website so students can just go and drop comments. It’s like a ticket almost. And then someone in SGA can review that and get feedback immediately from that. I think just doing better marketing around SGA, so students know what the SGA does. I can’t tell you how many times people are like, what’s the SGA? And that seemed to be a common theme in its kind of was really disheartening to realize how many students on this campus didn’t know what the SGA was or that they only thought the SGA only managed the money for RSOs. But we do a lot more than that.

CF: I think just marketing SGA better is this key because students on campus don’t really understand the power the SGA has to do a lot of things. How SGA can really help them on campus. So, creating better ways to teach the students how much SGA can help them is what we are looking to do.

Now that the recent impeachment hearings are over, how do you plan to mend and differences between the executive and legislative bodies?

KK:  Our campaign slogan speaks to that. So, I’d say watch out for our campaign slogan. I think definitely working with them and having that close relationship: open communication and transparency with everything that we do. So, anything that I would do if we were to be so lucky to be elected into our positions would be shared with everyone. You know, the SGA has a current Google Drive that the legislative body uses and there’s folders for all the other branches and every individual and committee in subsection of the SGA. To my knowledge, the only people that use it is the legislative branch. So anytime anyone within the US here right now has questions about something that the executive is doing, we have to either file a public records request or if someone from the executive branch is gracious enough to give us that information. But either way, we still have to ask for it. And that’s not really the way it should be. It’s a shared governance type thing. So, if I have a question about it, I shouldn’t have to be calling someone or emailing someone saying, ‘hey, can I get the minutes from this meeting or can you tell me what happened at this meeting?’ It should all kind of be there and be available? And I think it’s really important to sit down and set the tone immediately. So from whatever, whoever wins and whoever takes office, I suggest that this to everyone down, whether it be at a public meeting or kind of within the cabinet meeting and then a legislative meeting you know, put it all out there and they have an open house, no holds bar. Tell us what your honest opinions are. Tell us how we can help you and vice versa, because it’s a symbiotic relationship. You know, the executive branch can’t get anything done without the legislative branch, and the legislative branch can get quite a bit done. But they also need the watch the executive branch to sign off and approve it, to get everything to go up to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.

Do you have plans to improve how the SGA works with RSOs?

KK: Absolutely. So, as someone who’s been part of the RSO process multiple times, whose had friends who keep coming to me because their RSO keep getting denied, I think there needs to be discussion around what we’re doing because our RSOs, let’s face it, they’re being denied because they don’t have their Is dotted and their Ts crossed, literally, not metaphorically. Their constitution, it might not say exactly like two thirds vote. They’ll say like a majority vote. But there is just that that little phrase, two-thirds. And instead of saying, ‘hey, you’re missing this,’ it’s just denied. So, I think some more openness around that. I know there’s been a lot of confusion and kind of chaos around the RSO approval process particularly this year, because the process kind of changed and it went from a rolling basis or twice a year, as some people might have known it as, to one time here. So RSOs are approved in the fall and that is it. You can apply in the fall, but that’s it. You have to wait. So, I know there are at least six groups that I’m aware of currently that are awaiting to apply for next fall. But there’s kind of a multiple fold issue here. So the SGA, we can’t deny groups from forming just because, you know, we don’t have money necessarily because if you’re denying a group that can be seen as a restriction of freedom of speech, because they’re actually they’re not expressing their freedom of speech through a means being the RSO. But we do know there is finite money. So I think creating a different type of group instead of an RSO we might, you know, we might have two terms of RSOs, we might have a registered student organization and a recognized student group like an RSG or something, create something else, though so that way we were recognizing that we have these groups and we’re still giving them privileges, but they are understanding that they’re not going to be able to get the money from us right away. So, coming up with some sort of process that would allow for that, then also something that Chair Padmaraju has been working on is trying to figure out a common item rental program. So, we have a number of our RSOs that have to pay for projectors when they rent space around campus. They have to pay for AV equipment like audio equipment, like microphones or a sound mixer, a projection screen, tables, tablecloths. Her committee are kind of working on trying to figure out ways SGA can create this program and buy these materials so that way an RSO will have no cost essentially to them. They don’t have to pay for a space already necessarily, depending on where the space is on campus. But they wouldn’t have to pay for a projector because they’d have a projector, they could borrow from us. That’s kind of her realm of things. I just know that something that’s being talked about. And again, I think just having the open communication. The Secretary of Treasury position is a full time, permanent professional staff position. It’s not something that a student can do on their own, especially with all the moving pieces as far as counting goes, dealing with their summit accounts, dealing with trips and all the process for travel for an RSO. This is something that we truly need a professional staff member to do. The Secretary of the Registry is a very important role and would the report and work directly with that professional staff member. But currently we don’t have a professional staff member that’s solely dedicated to just our student groups. You have advisors, but they also have other hats that they wear . . .

CF: When RSOs think about SGA the first thing they think about is the budget, because that is their main connection to SGA. So being transparent about the budgeting process, being transparent about saying the fact we may not have enough money for these, there will be budget cuts across the board and being honest about why the money isn’t being given to some RSOs. In my specific case with one of my clubs, I’ve seen random money being taken out of what we requested with no explanation given and with no information on that. So just having a more transparent, open, honest communication about the budgeting process and what is going on with SGA budget in terms of how much each RSO is getting is very important to improving the relationship we have with RSOs on campus.

KK: I’d say on top of that, this question was targeted specifically to RSOs, but I think one thing that’s constantly forgotten about is our agencies. There are twelve agencies out there with the newest being UMass E.M.S. and I think they’re severely underrated. The budgeting process for the past few years towards agencies has been not so favorable. A lot of budget cuts being made to agencies budgets. Agencies not being able to provide services at the level they’d like to provide them for students. There’s been a number of issues with agencies as well. In the recent time, there’s been discussion about the creation of another agency, potentially. When you have our RSOs that grow exponentially and they start doing more and more work for students, very much like UMass E.M.S. did, they started out as an RSO, but they’re now an agency, because SGA recognized, that they’re providing a service to students. So, I think along those lines as well, we need to formalize some guidelines of what it means to be an agency. So that way, if we do have any more RSOs that grow and rise to that level, that we’re able to help them help support their funding as well.

With the break in campaigning in this election (spring break), why do you think your campaign’s message will resonate with students?

KK: Oh, so, yes, the break is definitely a challenge. I have my personal concerns that the election is not even going to reach the five percent required by the SGA. And my reasoning for thinking that is that a number of students don’t have Monday classes. So, when they return to campus, they’re not going to return to campus until late Monday evening or even Tuesday in the afternoon. And then Wednesday is not a full day of voting. Voting will be closed from what we’ve what I’ve seen I believe is going to be closing. So, I think by us getting out there and really essentially putting our campaign into the student’s hands, letting the students decide, what we’re running on, is going to help resonate more than having a cookie cutter or your own personal agenda going into this. Yes, don’t get me wrong. There are things that I’d like to report to run on specifically. I’m sure there’s things that Chris wants to run specifically. But I think having that mixture of original thinking from the student body and what student issues are and really focusing again back on the students, letting the students decide what the SGA is doing for them, not what the SGA actually decides they want to do for the students. It’s going to be a huge thing. I’m not going to lie. We’re going to have a tough race. This is a lot of great people running with lots of different experience in lots of different areas. I’m really looking forward to this race because of that reason. We’re letting the students decide what they want to do versus us trying to come up with some solid campaign on our own.

CF: Yeah. Adding on, I think where a different ticket because we’re running on what the students want. Not because we have come up with platform points that we want to get across. We don’t want to be like every other ticket or other candidates that come before that run on platform points and just hope that the students agree with them. We are centering everything we’re doing around our campus and our student body.

There are a lot of specific rules when it comes to campaigning; does your campaign have any specific plans in place to prevent violations? 

KK: I have already spoken with Chris and with my campaign manager and a few campaign workers that I do have right now. And I’ve made it explicitly clear I asked very direct questions to the elections commission during our candidates meeting to try to find out some understanding behind that. And anything that happens is going to be run through either myself or the campaign manager or both. So, everything has got several sets of eyes on it before it goes out. Thankfully, that happened because some of our materials that we already went to get approved were spelt wrong. So, it’s a good thing that we had several sets of eyes on them. But, you know, I’ve asked to speak with all the candidates. We’ve spoken twice now. We met at the last SGA meeting at the end of the meeting, and we met after the candidates meeting and we discussed that we want to run a clean race. All of us want to run a clean race and that we’re all going to communicate with each other. All the candidates have already started a group chat and we’ve already started to communicate back and forth across them.

Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @cassiemcgrath_.